Access to Top Talent Drives Businesses’ Diversity Efforts

Companies may be coming around to a business case for diversity and inclusion.

Sixty-three percent of firms cited “access to top talent” as a main driver behind their diversity and inclusion initiatives, ahead of more traditional motivations like “fair treatment” (60%) and “public pressure” (21%), according to a new study.

The findings, released Wednesday by executive search firm Egon Zehnder International, indicate that companies are taking a more “progressive” view on workplace dynamics, says Lisa Blais, co-leader of the firm’s U.S. Diversity Council.

Instead of focusing on metrics and compliance, which she calls “old-school” approaches, firms are recognizing the bottom-line value of fostering an open work culture. While companies have struggled to quantify the benefits of diversity, Ms. Blais says many are finding that promoting “diversity of thought” – that is, forming teams of workers from different backgrounds – leads to better decisions, innovations and end results.

The survey, completed in July, polled 511 senior executives representing a mix of large and small companies around the world.

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal wrote about the rise of Chief Diversity Officers, who are tasked in part with finding a way to measure progress at their firms.

Still, some firms acknowledge there are business costs to promoting diversity. Drawbacks include slower decision-making (22%) and less workplace coherence (10%).

In addition, companies aren’t giving equal treatment to all types of diversity. Gender diversity is the top priority, with 73% of respondents saying they’re actively pursuing measures in this area, followed by nationality (44%), ethnicity (29%) and age (28%).

Companies in the United States and Australia lead the way in promoting gender diversity, ahead of those in Asia, Europe and South America.